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Making Sense Of The New PSLE Scoring System Starting 2021

Updated: Apr 30



The time-honoured and all-too-familiar PSLE T-score scoring system has officially become obsolete. Initially introduced in 1960, the T-score scoring system will become history as part of continuing efforts to restructure the educational system. From this year, students taking their PSLE will be graded with Achievement Levels (ALs) in each of the four subjects. The ALs range from 1 to 8 and the sum of the ALs will constitute a student’s final score, which will then be termed the PSLE Score.


The overhaul of the scoring system, as explained by the Ministry of Education (MOE), is meant to alleviate the over-emphasis on examination results. Under the revised PSLE scoring system, students will be assessed based on their own performance in each subject. This simply means that a student’s grade is solely dependent on his or her abilities to score for PSLE questions Singapore during the examinations, regardless of the performance of the entire cohort. MOE explained that this will be more meaningful in the educational sense than the old T-score scoring system, which reflected how well students had performed as compared to their peers.


Based on the raw mark ranges published by MOE, a student who scores 90 and above for a particular subject will score an AL of 1. The performance of other students in the same examination will have no impact on the AL of this student. Hence, this new scoring system is intended to allow students to concentrate on their own progress in learning, rather than trying to compete with others.


It is worthwhile to note that the scoring bands are not evenly distributed. At the top ALs, the ranges are narrower. For example, a score of 85 to 89 lands in the AL2 range while a score of 45 to 64 lands in the AL6 range. According to MOE, the uneven distribution of scores can provide more meaningful differentiation due to the way examinations are designed – with the same logic, levels of understanding and grades are nonlinear.


A simple analogy illustrates this point. When we start to learn a new thing, we often see great improvement after putting in some time and effort. However, as we learn more and get better, the improvements become incremental and smaller. As we gain expertise in the subject or skill, the improvements grow just a little more even after we put in significant effort and time. The ALs hence reflect this reality of making progress in learning. Secondly, MOE estimates that around half of the cohort will score 75 and above, so the narrower bands at the top are intended to prevent too many students from having the same ALs. This is to ensure that there would not be too many students with the same PSLE score, which would then necessitate further tie-breaking to determine secondary school postings. Following the same line of reasoning, hard psle math questions are frequently seen in PSLE Math Paper for the purpose of differentiating the best students from the average students.


Only time can tell if the new PSLE scoring system can achieve its aim. No amount of revamp will create the perfect educational system and it is up to parents and students to embrace the change. In the meantime, consistent hard work is still required for a student to achieve the stellar results he or she desires. Rather than losing sleep over how this new scoring system will impact the final results, it is perhaps more worthwhile to start revision, perhaps with upper primary materials like free test papers for Primary 5.

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